Despite some early rough patches, the administrations of Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu are finding common ground as both grapple with the concept of a two-state solution and the Iranian threat.
That assessment was made by Uriel Heilman, the managing editor for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency during the annual Michael Fink Memorial Lecture, held Oct. 13 at Temple Beth El of Somerset.
The lecture was established 11 years ago by Lori and Robert Fink and is held around the anniversary of the death of their 27-year-old son shortly after he received his doctorate in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Heilman, who is in charge of Middle East and global coverage, told the audience that America, despite the pressure it has placed on Israel to advance the peace process, has demonstrated that it still has strong allegiance to Israel.
The UN Security Council, under strong pressure from the United States, he told his audience at Beth El, recently delayed a vote on the controversial Goldstone report, which accused both sides of human rights abuses in the Israel-Hamas Gaza war of last winter and leveled war crimes accusations against Israel.
“When the Goldstone report came out, the Obama administration was very quick to condemn it as biased,” Heilman said. “The United States will continue to back Israel on the international stage.”
Yet, Obama’s “ambitious agenda” is frightening to Israelis after eight years of the presidency of George Bush, where few demands were placed on it. Heilman described the relationship between the U.S. and Israeli administrations as that of a new husband and wife.
“They need to take some time to get used to each other,” said Heilman. “To be fair, there is not much difference between now and 2000 when George W. Bush came into office. Whenever there is a change in administration in the U.S., there is anxiety in Israel.”
However, unlike Bush — who insisted that Iran had halted its nuclear program — the Obama administration seems to be on the same page as Netanyahu in assessing the threat Iran’s nuclear program poses to Israel and to the United States and its allies.
Moreover, both Obama and Netanyahu seem to agree that the reason a peace settlement may be impossible is “because the Palestinian Authority [in the West Bank] is too weak to make peace.”
“Strengthening the Palestinian economy will weaken Hamas,” said Heilman. “It is clear both [Netanyahu] and the Obama administration recognize the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority.”
That is a solution that may sit well with residents of the West Bank, said Heilman, “who don’t want to end up like Gaza.”
“In their mind,” he said, “Gaza is where the extremists and poor cousins are.”
And it is a solution that may ultimately work for the Israelis.